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TRAFICANT CASE With House vote looming, some still push for delay



Published: Wed, July 24, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



A friend will seek a delay in voting for the congressman's expulsion.

By DAVID SKOLNICK

VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER

WASHINGTON -- If U.S. House Republicans had their way, the expulsion hearing for U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. would have been postponed until after Labor Day.

But an Orange County, Calif., Democrat, one of the first House members to call for Traficant's expulsion, made sure the vote will take place before the House recesses Friday for six weeks.

The expulsion motion will be considered by the House at 6 p.m. today. A two-thirds vote of the House is needed to accept the recommendation of expulsion from the ethics committee.

When U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez heard that House Republicans were looking to delay the hearing, she walked onto the House floor Tuesday and made a motion for a privileged resolution for a vote on Traficant's ouster.

Sanchez had previously submitted a nonprivileged resolution on Traficant's expulsion, which does not compel the House to take any action. But a privileged resolution means the House must vote within 48 hours after it is introduced.

"It would have been another month that he'd be getting a paycheck at taxpayers' expense," said Carrie Brook, Sanchez's spokeswoman. "It was enough already. She decided to move forward and get something done before the [summer] recess."

LaTourette seeks delay

U.S. Rep. Steven C. LaTourette, a Madison, Ohio Republican and close Traficant friend, was one of the major forces behind seeking the delay.

LaTourette, who as a member of the House ethics committee recommended Traficant's expulsion, said too many questions have been raised in the past few days about Traficant's case, and a delay of six weeks is a good idea.

"Expulsion is the political equivalent of the death penalty," LaTourette said. "In light of everything coming out, it should be postponed."

LaTourette, who admitted Sanchez is forcing the hand of House Republicans, said he will rise right after the resolution to expel Traficant is introduced and submit his own resolution seeking a delay in the proceedings.

There will be an hour of debate on LaTourette's motion and then it will be considered by House members. LaTourette said there have been members on both sides of the aisle -- including a group of Pennsylvania Democrats -- who agree that the expulsion proceeding should be delayed.

"Even if you don't like him or hate what he did, he should be permitted to have some more time," said LaTourette, who added that calls to his office are 9-to-1 in favor of not expelling Traficant.

His reasoning

LaTourette said the House has important issues, such as homeland security and corporate accountability, to address before its recess begins Friday, and the Traficant expulsion vote should be postponed.

But more important, LaTourette said, he doesn't want the House to rush to judgment on Traficant.

He points to recent statements by Leo Glaser of Independence, a juror on Traficant's federal corruption trial, that testimony made last week by Richard E. Detore, Traficant's co-defendant, at a House ethics hearing provided him with reasonable doubt as to the congressman's guilt.

However, Glaser told The Vindicator earlier this week that a cross-examination of Detore by federal prosecutors may have taken that reasonable doubt away.

Glaser said that his quotes in a newspaper story over the weekend were somewhat inaccurate and that his vote to convict Traficant stands.

Detore, who is under indictment, did not testify at Traficant's federal trial, at which the congressman was found guilty on 10 felony counts including bribery and racketeering. Traficant will be sentenced Tuesday.

At Traficant's ethics hearing -- which resulted in the committee's finding the congressman guilty of nine counts of violating the House's code of conduct and a recommendation of expulsion -- Detore made claims of prosecutorial misconduct. Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Morford, Traficant's lead prosecutor, denies the allegations.

Another juror's concerns

Also, Scott Grodi, 21, of Fairview Park, a Traficant juror who was excused after closing statements were made in the trial because of a death in the family, has come forward to say he is not convinced of Traficant's guilt, according to Traficant and LaTourette.

Grodi could not be reached to comment.

But LaTourette said Grodi has disclosed to a reporter at another newspaper that he would not have convicted Traficant if Detore had testified during the trial.

During an interview Tuesday with Connie Chung of CNN, Traficant said that Grodi was undecided about the congressman's guilt and was "shocked" when he heard the verdict.

If LaTourette's motion is denied, the expulsion proceeding will move ahead. U.S. Rep. Joel Hefley, who chairs the ethics committee, will have 30 minutes to state his case about why Traficant should be expelled. Traficant will then have 30 minutes to respond.

"As far as the House is concerned, there should be serious concerns about the integrity of the process by which Mr. Traficant was convicted," said Charles Straub, Traficant's spokesman. "We believe the House should refrain from proceeding because all these questions are left unresolved at this point."

Misconduct allegations

During his 15-minute interview on CNN, Traficant repeated his assertions that he was railroaded in federal court by U.S. District Court Judge Lesley Brooks Wells. Traficant said the judge should not have presided over his case because her husband is a partner in a law firm that represented USAerospace Group, a company significant to his case.

Traficant, who expects to be expelled and has no plans to resign, challenged the House's authority to oust him during the CNN interview.

"I know that sounds very unusual, but don't be surprised if I don't come with some political or legal machinations that puts Congress on its heels," he said.

Only four members of the House have ever been expelled.

Traficant, a Poland Democrat, is running for re-election as an independent, and plans to serve, and expects to win, even if he is in a jail cell.

Strickland asks for probe

After hearing Detore's testimony, U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland, a Lucasville Democrat, asked the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Professional Responsibility to investigate "any credible allegations of misconduct by Justice Department officials" made by Traficant's co-defendant.

"Detore's testimony has affected the minds of members who thought this was an open-and-shut case," Straub said. "It's good that congressmen feel this matter needs to be investigated completely. It speaks to the issue of Traficant's trial and its legitimacy. If there are charges of prosecutorial misconduct with one count, it sheds a shadow of doubt on the entire process."

Even so, Strickland, who through redistricting is running for a seat that includes portions of Traficant's current district, is prepared to vote to expel the congressman today.

Michael Halleck of Salem, Strickland's Republican opponent in the Nov. 5 election, said Congress should postpone the expulsion hearing until after Judge Wells sentences Traficant next week.

Halleck, a former Columbiana County commissioner, said he has had a good working relationship with Traficant over the years.

"He's very much like me," Halleck said of Traficant. "He fights for what he believes in."

skolnick@vindy.com




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